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Archive for Feb, 2017

Listener No 4436, Clean-up Operation: A Setter’s Blog by Aragon

Posted by Listen With Others on 26 Feb 2017

An idea right on my doorstep

What sort of person paints their doorstep? One person at least has already asked that question. What sort of person paints their doorstep and then decides to compose a crossword on the subject? Erm, well, you see, it was like this…

The previous evening, in September 2015, Northern Ireland had seen off the Faroe Islands on their way to qualification for Euro 2016 and a glass or two of wine had been drunk to celebrate. It was a sunny day and there was a pot of dark brown doorstep paint from Homebase needing to be used, so I set to if not with a vengeance, then at least with a will, of sorts. Some time later, admiring my handiwork only briefly, I suggested to our son that he might like to make a sign to warn people not to stand on the artist’s fresh canvas, which he duly did. Admittedly it was perhaps not the most artistic or dramatic notice ever constructed in the annals of doortstep DIY (a scrawled WET PAINT ON DOORSTEP! on a side of A4). Nonetheless I was (more than usually) dismayed to find, shortly afterwards, that someone had dropped a flyer through the letter box. It is not really possible to do this without standing on our doorstep, so I had a quick look to see what damage had been done. Imagine my horror when I saw a trail of seven dark brown footsteps proceeding in a series of steps uncannily resembling the moves of a chess knight, as far as the foot of a receding postman. Actually, I made that last bit up: in fact no damage at all appeared to have been done: there was nothing to clean up. All was as it should be on the doorstep front. However the seed of cruciverbal inspiration had been sown and over the next few days I worked out a possible way of transferring the idea into a crossword.

By the following Friday I had worked out enough in my mind, and in a few notes, to attempt to construct a grid. This would contain the word DOORSTEP (probably at the bottom, of course), the name of the person who’d trodden on it, and a warning sign. Having constructed a few puzzles in the past where changes to the grid left non-words, I was determined that on this occasion the “clean-up” theme would leave everything “normal”: no nasty paint stains, no non-words.

So I sat in the garden and beavered away on a grid fill, which proved extremely tricky given the constraints set: DARK BROWN was the colour chosen, partly to reflect real life, and partly because it neatly could begin on the D of DOORSTEP and end on the foot (N) of the POSTMAN. Only the intermediate seven letters would clash: the colour would be spelled by one set of clashes, and the letters for the warning sign would appear in the other set. As there were fewer letters available than the letters required for the warning, this meant that some of the latter would have to appear in the grid: this was a good thing, really: I could start the message off in the grid and this would provide a clue as to where the rest of it was to go. Originally the idea was to make a T-shaped sign, but that would have meant the DOORSTEP appearing higher up, and it didn’t seem to add much. Better to stick with a continuous line of squares to be highlighted. The tight grid constraints meant that the average word length was marginally under the minimum recommended in the setters’ notes. I also had to resort to using UNTOGAED (in Webster, as it turns out, but I took heart in any case from the fact that TOGAED is in Chambers, and the principle that you can shove UN- in front of pretty much anything — especially when you’re desperate). The name of the Co Kildare town of NAAS is well-known enough to me as a native of Ireland, but it was another final entry I was less than happy with.

The idea of the exclamation mark came early on: this made TEPID a very handy candidate for the bottom row, and I toyed with one or two possibilities for the dot-provider: phrases ending in PERIOD were among them. BARDOT was chosen for being comparatively short — and working with a cross-checking I of course.

The clues were not written until two months later: originally the idea was that there would be no gimmick, and therefore no concealed information but the way things worked out, this of course became necessary. The “dropped letter” idea was related to the postman: the idea was that he’d have interfered with perfectly normal-looking clues, which meant effectively that most clues needed to have two surfaces: this presented something of a challenge and meant that it took two days of solid effort to produce an initial set. I sent the finished article off to my trusty vetter, who made several very good suggestions, all of which I took up: originally the preamble did not state how many letters were involved in the trail, and I saw that this was potentially confusing. His main difficulty, as I had feared, was not knowing where to place the extra letters to make the warning, although he eventually spotted that BOHE — left after removing the clashes from BOHEA — was not a real word. I think several other solvers gained enlightenment that way also, as it turned out. Finally, he wasn’t keen on the fact that TEP!D wasn’t actually a real word (as neither is BARI. of course), hence the instruction to “ignore the point” in the final version of the preamble, when considering what constitutes a real word in the completed grid. I decided that the preamble also needed to state that the letters of the message read continuously and hoped this would also lead solvers to consider column three as the likely candidate.

I sent the final version to the first vetter a month later, and after learning from him about the huge backlog of submissions in his intray, I had a further invitation to consider altering the grid to increase the average entry length (and this even before solving!). I had a go, with little hope of success, and so it proved.

The next thing I heard was from the the editor, with a suggested, shorter, preamble, and a few suggestions to shorten a few of the large batch of clues. Several of the alterations to “extra letter” clues had affected the surface reading of the originals, so I spent some time re-doing them. It may be that the brilliant job Roger did with the preamble (originally I think even scarier than the final article) caused some doubt in the minds of solvers about the shading of the DOORSTEP section. Many did not use their version of the Homebase pot of paint. For interest, here’s one earlier version:

“A job has been completed — with an unfortunate consequence. In a number of squares entries clash. These clashes complete a nine-letter trail which proceeds, in a series of knight’s moves, from the scene of the work to the perpetrator (who is to be highlighted). Across entries in the trail set the tone, which should be used to highlight the work area (other highlighting in the puzzle need not comply with this). Some clues have had an extra letter dropped into them which needs to be removed: these letters spell out instructions for the clean-up operation, and what to arrange to create the first part of a warning, to prevent a recurrence of the mishap. This will involve replacing letters in part of one column of the grid (one letter matches its replacement) and highlighting them. The warning should be finalised by the symbolic resolution of a further grid clash (also to be highlighted), completing a message that reads continuously in a series of 19 squares. Missing the point in one square, all entries in the final grid may be read as real words or proper names. Numbers in brackets refer to lengths of clue answers. Chambers (2014) is the primary reference, but does not give one prefixed form, nor the definition at 8 (in Collins).”

But leniency, and a desire not to alienate a large constituency of solvers so early in the year (Donald Trump hardly even having warmed his seat in the Oval Office) prevailed. I believe that that was the correct decision.

But beware: the next Listener Doorstep Challenge will require those finished articles to come out browner than brown!

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‘Clean-Up Operation’ by Aragon

Posted by Encota on 24 Feb 2017

Only a brief post this week as I have had to reconstruct this one from other notes 😦

I think this is the first of Aragon’s Listener puzzles I have ever attempted – and (for me, at least) it was hard!  Excellent!!  The endgame took much longer than the clue-solving.

After solving all the clues and spotting that DARK BROWN was one option for the clashing cell-based knight’s moves from bottom to top, I was pretty confident that I was looking to modify seven letters using AINOPTT.  The DOORSTEP was of course easy to find as the Workarea, but the perpetrator took me much longer [I even diverted for a while looking up the American footballer M.SHAWNE who, as he was nicknamed “Lights Out” (for knocking other players unconscious) might have been the cause of the doorstep mishap].  What would Merriman Shawne be doing on the doorstep, though?

Eventually I found POSTMAN, which made a lot more sense.  Deciding that the letter ‘I’ and ‘DOT’ clash could be combined into a pling(!) to ~resolve the 8th clash and I was sorted.  And this year I then decided to double-check that my highlighting was correct (as I have been guilty of a crayoning error in some recent puzzles) – and it seems to be!

Thanks to Aragon for a really tough puzzle!

Tim / Encota

P.S. And I get a week off from writing a Solver’s Blog next week 🙂

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Clean-up Operation by Aragon

Posted by shirleycurran on 24 Feb 2017

aragon-wet-paint-001What a daunting preamble.  I’m not sure where knight’s moves come in our list of Listener dislikes (somewhere amongst the Playfair Squares, jumbles, words jumping from clue to clue and so on – right down at the bottom) but there they were, together with clashes and some sort of a mess. Ah well, nothing to do but scan the clues to check that Aragon qualifies for his entry ticket to the annual Listener tipple (he’s the Editor of the whole shebang isn’t he so he has to be there). There isn’t a lot of evidence. ‘Kilgraston’s hea[R]d girl offers narcotic drink (4)’ gives us K + AVA, then Aragon descends to the level of second-rate tea, `Poor tea[L] rustic knocked back by local river (5)’ HOB< + EA = BOHEA. Well, cheers, anyway Aragon.

Solving isn’t quite as much of a struggle as we expected as these clues are fair and even generous. Who could fail to solve ‘Dancing girl excited male (4)’? Well, I could! ALME is such an obvious solution that we are left wondering whether Aragon is pulling a fast one and actually requiring a far more subtle answer. We spot one of the clues that is likely to lead a few careless solvers astray: ‘[I] hired out sets of three old desks (8)’ We decided this was LET + TERNS since Chambers tells us that those are ‘old’ desks, but we did wonder whether it was merely to add difficulty that led Aragon to opt for that word rather than LECTERNS (and would the editors have allowed an ordinary mortal like me to have the required extra letter as an independent word? Hmmm!)

We usually check answer lengths fairly early in our solve but this time it was only when 42 down seemed to have two extra letters that we did a speedy check, finding that that was the only solution-length anomaly. ‘Poet with books gets female star[E] (6)’ BARD + OT gave us BARDOT and we were finally beginning to see some of the endgame since clearly we had to enter her as BAR and a dot or full stop.

The clean-up instruction was appearing too. We were able to piece together ERASE ALL TRAIL CLASHES – and what to arrange to doorstep-1replace consecutive letters: DOWN TRAIL CLASHES. We had seven clashes in our grid and were told that we were looking for A ‘nine-letter trail of knight’s moves from the work area (8 cells) to the perpetrator (7 cells). The work area leapt out at us. A DOORSTEP was at the bottom of the grid and if we took the ‘across entries’ in the trail of clashes and moved in knight’s moves upwards, we were given the ‘tone’ for the work area which seemed to be a dingy DARK BROWN. (Indeed, for once the knight’s moves were a helpful gift and not the nightmare we feared). Does one really have a dark brown doorstep? Well the answer is apparently yes! (See photo.) I think that is Aragon’s doorstep. I wonder what he would do about the careless solvers who are likely to paint it yellow or pink.

postmans-mess-002Our instruction told us we had to rearrange DOWN TRAIL CLASHES (as well as erase them to operate the clean-up) and they gave us IPONATT. That is where the head scratching began. Who was the perpetrator of that mess that we had erased that led upwards from the doorstep. Our first Numpty red herring gave us CUMSHAW. Well, that’s a tip isn’t it, but not perhaps the sort of tip required here and Mr Cumshaw, whoever he may be, could hardly be a perpetrator. It was a while later that we spotted the POSTMAN.

We had just one hint. When we erased the clashes, we were left with real words, except for one – BOHE – so that had to be where we were going to do some letter replacement using those down clash letters IPONATT.  BOTE seemed a likely ‘real word’, ALME could become ALOE, CHEWED could become CHEWET – and slowly we teased out the obvious message “WET PAINT ON DOORSTEP!” So we have a fine little story.img019

The POSTMAN paddled that paint all the way across the grid and now we have erased his mess and cleaned it all up and are putting up that warning sign, and yes, of course the I of TEPID combined with the BARDOT dot to give a warning exclamation mark, leaving us real words there too, ‘missing the point in one cell’. Nice one Aragon!

Ah the HARE – of course this week he was going to be just as elusive as ever but playing the game and performing knight’s moves – not just one, but a total of three! Time we got rid of him – I’ve included a vicious looking rabid dog to perform the task.hare-performing-knights-moves-001

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Listener No 4436: Clean-up Operation by Aragon

Posted by Dave Hennings on 24 Feb 2017

2015’s Aragon puzzle was the one about Nancy Mitford and her sisters. Before that, we had Henry VIII and his wives. This week’s preamble smacked of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with a domestic job, a warning and a perpetrator. Only time would tell if my early suspicions would bear fruit. [No they won’t. Ed]

The slightly worrying aspect of the puzzle for me was the reference to knight’s moves in the preamble — not my favourite puzzle feature. Luckily, the trail was only nine letters long and would mostly be revealed by seven clashes.

listener-4436-second-effortThis was a week for a quick run through all the clues in order. I was lucky with 1ac Deputy Officer Commanding in Highlander’s tall hat (5), being OC in LUM, even though I’d never considered a LOCUM as a deputy, more just a stand-in. Next came 16 PAWK and 18 Go nude at revels? Not in Roman’s habit (8) for UNTOGAED, which the preamble tells us Chambers doesn’t have… nor any other dictionary I tried! Still, Chambers does prefix its list with “Some words formed with the prefix un-” (my italics), so I guess almost anything goes. Here, the answer was fairly obvious.

I liked the misleading clue at 23ac Faraway call from Stratford area of London (4), where the answer looked like SOHO, but needed a check in C to see that the second meaning had Stratford referring to Shakespeare. However, a fairly shabby ten across clues solved, followed by even fewer downs. I was confused when I got to 42dn which was clued as (6), even though it only had four cells in the grid. A reread of the preamble indicated that this might be the one further clash that needed to be resolved symbolically. (Unfortunately, it was much later in the solve that BARDOT came to my aid.)

Half an hour in, and less than twenty solved. Still, the top of the grid was looking pretty good with five entries dropping down from the top row. Mind you, I couldn’t really understand working in 3dn C-shaped bit, working? (6) for C-HEWED.

The grid was finished in about 1¾ hours, more quickly than I had expected after my first run through. So now it was time to reread the preamble and see what was still left to be done. For a start, there were the letters dropped before solving. First we had to Erase all trail clashes and then arrange the Down trail clashes and use them to replace consecutive letters in one column.

The seven clashes made it fairly easy to home in on the DOORSTEP in the bottom row, and only a minute or so later, the POSTMAN running (walking) in a SW–NE direction. The clashes themselves, with across letters on top, were:


If I had worked my way up the grid, DARK BROWN would have probably stood out more, but it didn’t take long to see that. The D and N were provided by the Doorstep and postmaN, respectively. The remaining letters were IPONATT which needed rearranging — POINT AT, TO PAINT, NOT A TIP? Or indeed, just a jumble?

Our help with the second part of the message was given by the preamble — “…all entries in the final grid may be read as real words or names.” With the clashes erased, I had BOHE in row 11 and NAAS in column 10. I thought neither were real words until I checked Google for place-names. I had, in fact, come across NAAS before, a town in Ireland, but had forgotten it. That left BOHE that needed to be changed in some way.

I think I was helped with having tried to resolve 3dn and seen chewet underneath chew. With INWEAVE unlikely to become a different word, the letter matching its replacement proved to be its N, and WET PAINT ON soon appeared in column 3. Finally, Brigitte BARDOT came to the rescue with the clash resolved symbolically: with the DOT clashing with the I of TEPID, we had an exclamation mark!

Thus the full warning was spelt out as WET PAINT ON DOORSTEP!

listener-4436-entryOne last read of the preamble and I would be done. Well, everything was sorted… except “across entries set the tone for the work area.” The work area was the doorstep, and the across clashes had given DARK BROWN. Did that mean that my usual light coloured highlighting needed to be interrupted by a darker colour? I mused on it for a few minutes and decided that it did. After all, preambles don’t normally indulge in idle chitchat! Although most doorsteps are a darker colour to hide footprints and mud, I personally think Aragon should have coloured it DARK GREEN.

I found this a really enjoyable and amusing puzzle, with a novel theme which was ingeniously implemented. Thanks, Aragon.

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‘The Harmony of Ratios’ by Ifor

Posted by Encota on 20 Feb 2017

Another excellent Listener puzzle from Ifor – thanks!  There was so much accurate construction to like:

  • the symmetric positioning of the Chambers/champers highlighting (I suspect I wasn’t the only Listener aficionado thinking that Chambers was an essential item as part of a puzzle-setting kit for said desert island and surely could never be considered a luxury)
  • the inclusion of the Bible as OT and NT in TOTIENTS
  • the inclusion of the Complete works of Shakespeare via SCABBARD

I also loved the title, which I interpreted as the Harmony (theme tune) of RAT (desert) + I (island) + Os (discs).  Hence the Creator must refer to the composer (Eric Coates) rather than the creator of the programme.

And, as an aside, isn’t TOTIENTS a strange word, with an even stranger definition!  It featured in a recent University Challenge quarter-final episode too.

Superb – thanks again to Ifor.

Tim / Encota

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